Wednesday, 30 November 2011

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Learner Diaries: Reading Woe & Writing Joy Part 2

I wrote here about how I battled with a story given to me by my Portuguese teacher. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you read that first, or this post won’t make much sense.

Feedback, or Should I Say Correction?

So having expressed my displeasure at the difficulty of the story to my teacher, I was interested to see how he would react. I wasn’t too concerned about his response as while he may have flaws as a teacher, but he doesn’t seem to have too many as a human being, so I felt that he would deal with it in a positive way. Fortunately, I was correct in my assumption.

His first reaction was to reply to my email. He said he was grateful for the feedback which was very important to him (which begs the question “why doesn’t he ask for it then?!”) and that he was surprised, not just to receive an email from me, but by the length and by the quality of my writing, which I was pretty happy about as you can imagine.

Later before the lesson, he gave me a print out with my errors corrected, which I hadn't asked for but was more than happy to receive. We then discussed, as best I could within my linguistic limits, the content of my email, and how we both recognised how difficult it was to teach multi-level classes. He was completely open to my suggestions and actually seemed pretty pleased to have someone to talk about these things with. As I know, the freelance teacher’s life can be lonely... (but I have my PLN to save me!)


At the beginning of the class, he brought up the subject of my email and my suggestion. I didn’t mind this too much, but it was a little bit embarrassing. Firstly, even though most of the other students agreed that it was very difficult, I was the only student who hadn’t actually finished the story (of course, reading the story all the way through is one thing, but understanding it and then appreciating it are others). This did make me feel a bit like the least able student, which may be the truth but luckily being a teacher makes me able to deal with that fairly comfortably. However, it’s still not the most pleasant situation to be in.

In general the reaction to the idea could best be described as.... well, lukewarm. No one was offended by it, but they weren’t that thrilled by it either. I had to remember that this is a pretty unusual idea for most students, so I presume that what they see is a lot of unnecessary work when they could just be given a text by the teacher. That’s why the teacher has to really sell an idea like this to the students by being enthusiastic after having thoroughly thought the idea through. As this seemed to be a new idea for my teacher too, I don’t think he put enough into it to convince the other students.

The Long and Winding Speech

We then discussed my idea, or we at least tried to, until one of the chattier learners decided to take this opportunity to tell us all about her favourite website and why it’s so great. Unfortunately the teacher didn’t step in and curtail this particular diatribe which went on for far too long, and somewhat sidetracked the conversation. Being a teacher makes you acutely aware of how distracting these kinds of ‘speeches’ can be. Sometimes the students can be too student centred, unfortunately.

The teacher came back to the theme at the end of the lesson, and he came to a compromise. For homework, he asked us to go to that particular website (so I’ll find out just how wonderful it is for myself...), choose an article and write a paragraph explaining why we chose it. What we’ll do with those paragraphs, I’m not sure, but I’ll email mine to him in advance. It’s a pretty good activity, much better than before, and a huge step in the right direction.

Lessons Learned

So what have I learned from this experience? Quite a lot, I think...
  • Students shouldn’t be reticent about telling their teachers what they think, but also teachers should be bold enough to combine an acceptance of these ideas with a confidence in their own ability.
  • If the teacher doesn’t entirely believe in an activity, then either he/she has to work at understanding it more, or they should get rid of it completely.
  • Sometimes someone can have the potential to be a great teacher, but without the right guidance, training, mentoring and reflection, the students are only going to see glimpses of it.
  • The wrong text to the wrong student can have a catastrophic effect, one that really can’t be underestimated and I think often is.
  • Don’t let students prattle on. That’s not student centred, it’s quite the opposite because the other students are the ones who are suffering.
  • If you’re going to make changes to the class at a student’s behest, don’t ‘out’ them. Talk about it in general terms, and allow them to tell the class if they wish.
And for my own learning...
  • Speak to my teacher more about teaching. I think he’ll enjoy it, it’ll make my classes a bit better, and I’ll get to talk about my favourite subject in Portuguese.
  • Make suggestions slowly. I’m not going to overwhelm him with the last twenty years of language teaching approaches (I wish I could!), but I can hopefully make small incremental changes that will help everyone. First thing I’m going to do is ask him to give feedback on my writing by only underlining my mistakes and not correcting it for me.
  • Write more!

And finally, I hope you can see how much I get from studying a foreign language. Aside from actually acquiring an another language, I also get an immensely satisfying and fulfilling training course, which encourages self reflection and personal development. As a language teacher, I can’t understate how valuable I think it is.

Part one of Learner diaries: reading woe & writing joy

Learner diaries: Reading, stories & vocabulary.

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  1. I've only been back in the classroom once since becoming a teacher. Not easy as I'm not only learning, but constantly assessing the pedagogy or teacher's direction from a teacher point-of-view.

    Nice to hear how you interaction had a positive impact both on your classroom experience, rapport with your teacher and your thoughts on our profession. Cheers, Brad



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